To celebrate the upcoming release date of Life Models, I am excited to post an excerpt from Chapter One here for your enjoyment…
The first time I ever laid eyes on Lydia Nelson, she was as naked as Lady Godiva on that legendary eleventh-century ride through Coventry. I didn’t have any advantage over Lydia though; I was just as naked as she was. The other twenty-three people in the room were fully clothed.
I had been a model for figure drawing classes at the University of North Texas for a little more than a year. It was a Thursday in mid-November, the time of the semester when most of the advanced figure drawing classes, and a few of the beginning ones, used two models at a time, usually in one long pose. I had already done one such class earlier that week, with a young waif of a girl named Kelsey. I had been familiar with Kelsey before we shared the platform, as she and I had met several times in the little changing room that was shared by all the models. I’d call it a dressing room, but there were equal amounts of both undressing and dressing in it. If UNT’s art program wasn’t the biggest in the state, it had to be a close second. Mondays through Thursdays there were at least two classes using models at any one time. The models’ changing room was a chaotic hub of activity just before 11:00 AM and 2:00 PM, when one set of classes ended and another began.
I always arrive early at every model booking, and that Thursday two o’clock class was no exception. Two other models were in the changing room when I got there, getting dressed from the previous session. One of them was Walter, who was a fixture in the art department. He had been a model at UNT for at least twenty years and was the only person on the department’s model list older than I was. The other model was a curvy blonde twenty-something student named Rochelle. I gave the courtesy knock on the changing room door and entered. Rochelle was topless with a bra in her hand, her young large breasts seeming to defy gravity.
“Hey guys,” I said as I slipped into the room, being careful to make sure that the door didn’t swing too far open, not that Walter or Rochelle would have minded. Spending three hours in one’s birthday suit in front of a classroom full of art students changes one’s sense of modesty. Rochelle didn’t even bother to try to cover herself during the second or two that I had the door open.
“How goes it?” Walter said from the corner of the room where a column of small lockers stood.
“Awesome!” Modeling always put me in a good mood. I didn’t need the money, and I loved the job. “Rochelle, how are you?”
I set my bag on the counter next to Rochelle’s stuff, zipped it open, and rummaged around for my robe.
“Ready to go home and soak in a hot bath,” Rochelle said as she slipped into her bra and tried to fasten it in the back.
She continued to struggle as I pulled my shoes and socks off.
“Do you need some help with that?” Walter asked.
“No, I just about got it,” Rochelle grunted as she managed to get the first hook threaded. “Just did a three-hour reclining pose with my left hand propping up my head, and now my arm just doesn’t want to bend anymore.”
“How many breaks did you get?” I asked as she finished with the bra.
“I only took two.”
That meant that she was in pose for three periods of at least forty-five minutes each.
“You are an iron woman,” Walter said. “Don’t wear yourself out though.”
Of all the art models on the school’s list, Rochelle worked the most hours. She had a beautiful voluptuous body, could hold interesting poses for long periods of time, and, most importantly, was dependable.
Walter slung his backpack on and started for the door. “I gotta go to the boring regular job. Catch y’all later.”
Rochelle and I both said bye as Walter slipped out. He delivered pizzas when he wasn’t modeling. I looked at the schedule on the wall as I slipped out of my pants and saw David Michaels & Lydia Nelson printed in the Thursday 2 to 5 Room 324 column.
“Do you know this Lydia I’m supposed to be modeling with?” I asked Rochelle.
“Nope. I saw her name on the schedule last week, but I’ve never met her.”
“You should hang around,” I suggested. “If she doesn’t show, you might get some extra hours.” The thought of sharing a platform for three hours with a nude Rochelle was a very pleasant one.
“I would, but I’m beat. She should be here though.”
The UNT model coordinator, a graduate art student named Chloe, was very unforgiving of models who didn’t show up when they were scheduled. If Lydia had missed her assignment last time, Chloe wouldn’t have scheduled her again this week. Rochelle pulled her t-shirt on as I whipped mine off.
“Good luck with ‘Lydia,’” Rochelle said.
I was naked by then, shaking my robe out and trying to find my sleeve, which had been turned inside out after my last session. Rochelle backed out the door, looking at me and winking as she went.
“See ya,” I said, and then I was alone.
I put my robe on and tied the sash. My house slippers were still in my bag. I pulled them out, dropped them on the floor, and slid my bare feet into them. I thought about staying in the changing room and waiting for Lydia, just so I could introduce myself to her before we had to spend three hours naked on a small platform together. According to the clock on the wall, I had four minutes until the scheduled start of class. I folded my clothes and set them on the top of my modeling bag.
The changing room door swung open, and a young Hispanic girl named Maria rushed in. I glanced at the schedule again and saw her name listed in the room next to mine, a beginning figure drawing class. Maria tended to be shy when changing, doing as much of her disrobing under her robe as she could. I decided to vacate the room and give her some privacy.
“Hey there,” I said as I grabbed a couple of clean bed sheets from the stack in the corner.
“Hey. Sorry for barging in. I’m running late.”
“That’s OK. Have a good class.”
I slipped out and headed toward Advanced Figure Drawing, room 324. The halls were crowded with students walking to and fro, either leaving or going to class. I’ve always felt a bit strange walking through all this activity in my slippers and bathrobe, but nobody ever pays me any mind. They are all art students, used to seeing models in the corridor.
The door to room 324 was propped open when I got there. Audrey, the figure drawing instructor, was pushing the model stand from the center of the room toward the far wall, the flat wooden legs making a loud grating sound as they scooted across the floor. I rushed over to help her, setting my sheets down on the platform as I pushed with her.
“Thank you, David,” Audrey said once we had the model stand against the wall. “You didn’t have to do that.”
“It’s OK. How have you been?”
“Good.” She hopped up on the model stand and moved the cushioned bench from the center of the platform to the edge so that it was against the wall as well. “We’re going to do one long pose today, after the warmups.”
“OK,” I said. I had expected as much this late in the semester. Most classes tended to try to get really finished drawings toward the end. And there would be two models to draw which meant that the students would need as much time as possible to get both figures.
“We’re supposed to have another model too,” Audrey said. “Someone named Lydia. Do you know her?”
“No, never met her,” I replied.
“You don’t mind, do you? Posing with someone you’ve never met.”
I shrugged. “It’s just part of the job. I’m happy I get to model as much as I do.”
“Good. I hope she’s OK with it too. I’m always a little nervous when Chloe schedules me a model I’ve never met.”
I stepped out of my slippers and up onto the platform with my bare feet. The floors in the drawing studios were almost always covered in black dust from all the charcoal used for drawing. The soles of my feet had been jet black after my first two modeling gigs, so I bought the house shoes to wear when I’m not on the model stand.
I set my folded sheets down on the bench and sat on them. Students filed in and started setting up at their easels. I had modeled for this class five times before over the course of the semester, so I amused myself by guessing which easel a student was going to take when he or she first walked in. I was right every time. Most people are creatures of habit, and art students are no different.
“Everyone, start with newsprint,” Audrey told them while they were setting up. “We’re going to do just a few gestures at the beginning.”
Audrey usually had me do about five to ten quick poses, only about a minute each. I would take a lot of athletic positions, poses I couldn’t have held for much longer than that minute.
“We’re going to go ahead and start,” she said after checking the time on her phone.
I took that as my cue, and I stood and started untying the sash of my robe. Audrey noticed and bounded toward the hall to close the door. I wasn’t even thinking about the door being open. I was thinking about what to do for the first pose. Chances were, anyone walking by in the corridor here in the Fine Arts Building had already drawn me in other classes.
Audrey got the door closed and had her phone in her hand. Some drawing teachers like to keep time during the gesture poses; others just have me count the seconds in my head. Audrey liked to keep time herself. I slipped the robe off, savoring the feeling of the cool air on my bare skin, stirred from whipping my robe around as I tossed it aside. I took a quick glance around the room and wondered if any of the students, most of whom were hidden behind their easels, felt envious that I could be so primal, purely human, while they had to keep conforming to societal custom. And then I realized that most of them would probably be mortified if they had to be the only naked person in a room full of people.
“First pose,” Audrey snapped.
I looked up toward the ceiling, spread my feet apart, and drew my right arm back, imitating a javelin thrower’s stance.
“Go,” Audrey said to her students.
The room was quiet except for the furious scratching sounds of charcoal on paper as the students tried to capture my form. I spent the entire minute trying to come up with an idea for the next pose.
“Change,” Audrey called.
I took a twisting position with my arms pushing away from me. My feet were pointed toward the door, but with the turn of my body, I wound up looking away from it.
“Go,” Audrey said again.
About fifteen seconds into the pose, I heard the door open and close.
“Hi, I’m Audrey.”
“Lydia. Sorry I’m late.”
“That’s OK. We’re doing warm up gestures right now,” I heard Audrey tell the newcomer. “If you’re ready, you can jump in on the next one.”
“I can do that.”
I heard Lydia at the edge of the platform behind me and felt the rush of air of her robe coming off and being set down close to where I had set mine. Even though Audrey was keeping time, I had begun counting in my head when I had heard the door open. I wanted to see this Lydia, so I was more than ready to break this pose.
“Change,” Audrey finally called.
I turned and saw Lydia Nelson. The first thing I noticed was her eyes, as dark a green as the leaves around the poinsettias that I always saw around Christmas. She was short, around five foot-two, with brown hair and freckles on her shoulders. Her breasts were small, with large nipples that made the breasts seem even smaller. She was just a little soft around the waist, enough that some might have called her a bit chubby. Her thighs were thick but muscular. As I took that quick glance at her, I couldn’t help but notice that her pubic area was completely hairless which, along with her small breasts, gave her an almost childlike appearance. I had seen most of the female models at UNT in the nude, either in the changing room or while sharing a platform in class, and all of them had some form of pubic hair. I could imagine that they felt that the hair gave them some form of covering over their most private areas. But Lydia was apparently different. I could see every fold of skin as well as a hint of labia peeking out even though she was standing with her legs more or less together.
My gaze had only strayed from those striking green eyes for less than a second before returning. I smiled and mouthed the word, “Hi” before taking a tug of war pose. She returned my smile and whispered, “Hey.”
“These will be two-minute poses now, since you have two figures to draw,” Audrey told her students. To Lydia and me, she said, “That OK?”
“Sure,” Lydia said, and I nodded.
“All right, go,” Audrey said both to us models and to her students.
Lydia immediately took an opposing tug of war pose as if we were on opposite ends of the same short rope, the edges of our feet almost touching. I smiled, and she smiled back. Her green eyes seemed to sparkle. I looked at my arms, my hands holding the invisible rope, my gold wedding band on the ring finger of my left hand. Seeing the ring made me think of Glenda. What would she have thought of me making eyes at a girl who was probably young enough to be my daughter?
We did two more short poses, and both of them were interactive. When we broke from the tug of war pose, Lydia took a position as if she were throwing a ball. I pantomimed a wide receiver trying to catch a pass. For the final gesture, I put my hands over my head and bent forward slightly, as if I were crying in anguish. Lydia did a standing pose with an arm outstretched, as if she were offering me a tissue.
“That’s time,” Audrey said to signal the end of the last pose. “Those were awesome poses guys.”
“Thank you,” I said.
“Now,” Audrey addressed the class, “I want you to take out your good paper. We’re going to do one long drawing…”
I turned to Lydia as Audrey continued her instructions and held out my hand. “I’m David. David Michaels.”
She smiled and took my hand in hers. “Lydia.”
There was a moment of awkward silence, made more awkward by the fact that we were both naked and kind of in limbo. Audrey hadn’t told us to take a break, and we didn’t know how long she would be talking to the students. To robe up or not, that was the question. Lydia, to her credit, apparently didn’t feel the need to immediately cover up like many other female models with whom I had worked.
“So how long have you been modeling?” I asked in as low a voice as I could.
“Just started. I didn’t have any idea I would model with a guy my second time out.”
“They double us up sometimes at the end of a semester. You did great gestures though.”
Lydia smiled. “Thanks.”
“Are you OK with it?” I whispered as Audrey continued talking to her class about the upcoming drawing. “Modeling with a guy, that is.”
“Oh yeah,” she said, and she seemed to take a quick glance down at all of me. “I think of it as a perk.”
I laughed, probably a little louder than I should, and Audrey stopped talking.
“OK,” she said, “let’s get you two into a pose.”
She was near the light switches, and she turned off the overhead fluorescents and made sure all the rows of spotlights were on. I figured that Audrey wanted us sitting on the bench somehow since she had gone to all that effort to move both it and the model stand against the wall. I grabbed the sheet I had brought from the changing room and unfolded it so that it covered the entire bench.
“Damn it, I forgot to get a sheet,” Lydia whispered.
“That’s OK. This is big enough for both of us.”
Lydia and I sat next to each other and started adjusting our positions as Audrey watched with a critical eye.
“After seeing your gestures, I’d like to get you into something interactive,” Audrey said. “Like maybe you’re having a conversation or an argument or something.”
I turned and sat on my left hip with my lower leg on the bench and my right foot on the floor. Lydia put her left foot on the bench with her knee close to her shoulder. Her other foot was on the floor with the knee fallen toward me, and I couldn’t help but notice how exposed that pose made her, to me more so than to the art students. I could see just about every gynecological feature, even the couple of hairs that her razor had missed. Lydia either didn’t realize or was pretending not to notice how much she was revealing. Or perhaps it was a non-issue to her. Since I had started modeling, I had always tried to take the attitude that each body part was just something that made up the whole. For the art students studying the body, a penis or a vagina should be considered as present and as necessary as a knee or an arm. That’s the ideal attitude anyway, but not all students, or models for that matter, adhere to it. I’ve heard more than my share of giggles at the beginning of a semester. I’ve seen students move to either get or avoid a more explicit view of my genitals.
“How’s that?” Lydia asked Audrey.
“That’s OK, but I was hoping to see a little more variation between the two of you.”
If I hadn’t been staring at Lydia’s vulva for that brief moment, I might have realized sooner that not only was my pose similar to Lydia’s, but my current position would have quickly constricted the circulation in my left leg. I would have lost all feeling in that foot just a few minutes into the pose.
“I could stand up,” I offered.
“Are you sure?” Audrey said, echoing the typical response I got from art professors whenever I suggested doing a long standing pose. “This is going to be for the rest of class.”
Most art teachers were hesitant to ask their models to do long standing poses, but I had always found those standing positions easier than seated ones. Blood circulation was much better, and I much preferred weary muscles to a loss of feeling.
“No problem,” I said, jumping to my feet and almost immediately regretting it. My contemplation of Lydia’s reproductive organs had had a stimulating effect on my own, and my enlarged, but thankfully not erect, penis swung and swayed a little too much when I had bounced to my feet. Audrey didn’t seem to notice, but I saw a blonde girl in the corner smile and blush.
I stood beside the bench, trying not to block any students’ view of Lydia. The trick to being able to do a longer standing pose is to try to get as close to an equal distribution of weight on each foot as possible while still making the pose at least look somewhat contrapposto. Letting the arms dangle was never a good idea for circulation, so I put both of my hands on my hips.
“I don’t like both of your hands on your hips,” Audrey said, almost immediately.
I let my left hand drop and then shook it around trying to figure out what I should do with it.
“He could put his hand on my shoulder,” Lydia offered.
“You sure?” I asked.
Lydia nodded, and I placed my hand on her nearest shoulder. Her skin was soft and smooth and surprisingly warm. Audrey walked from one side of the room to the other, looking at the pose.
“That looks good. I like the dynamic of one standing figure and one seated. And it’s got really great light from over here.” Some of the students murmured in the affirmative. “OK, we’ll go ahead and go with this. David, Lydia, are you both OK?”
“Good to go,” I replied.
“Yes,” Lydia said at the same time.
I was standing parallel to the long side of the platform, facing Lydia. I tried to fix my gaze straight ahead at the far corner, but shifting my eyes downward just a tiny bit gave me a view of Lydia. I did not make eye contact with Lydia at all while we were in pose; her designated stare point was straight in front of her, at an area of my body between my navel and my thighs.
“You OK?” Lydia whispered to me.
“I don’t mean to stare at you like this, but it’s too late to move my head.”
“It’s OK,” I whispered back to her.
I took a deep breath and settled into my pose, trying not to contemplate the fact that a young naked girl would be spending two and a half hours staring at my exposed genitals at extremely close quarters. She might as well be staring at my elbow I tried to tell myself. Wasn’t that the attitude I always tried to have, that all parts were equal in making up the whole? Some ideals are difficult to put into practice. I wondered how many other jobs would put one in such an unusual situation, and I had to stifle a laugh. I wondered what my old church friends, most of whom I hadn’t seen since Glenda’s funeral, would have thought if they could have seen me then.
I had started modeling for art classes twenty or so years before, when I was a young college student away from home for the first time. My dorm roommate at the time couldn’t understand why anyone would ever consider doing such a thing, and I still remember being unable to explain it to him. I had grown up in a conservative household. Nudity was confined to the bath and shower and, in the summer, the very quick transition to and from regular clothes and swimsuits. When I got off to college, modeling for art classes appealed to me from the very moment that I heard that figure drawing classes needed people to pose nude. I always figured that it was my form of rebellion. I never drank or smoked throughout high school and even away at college, my drinking was minimal. But I have always suspected that the thought of taking my clothes off in front of a roomful of fellow students would have scandalized my parents. As far as I know, they had never found out about it.
I guess I modeled because I liked being looked at. Public speaking never appealed to me. In fact, getting up to speak in front of a large group of people was as attractive to me as getting a root canal. But being a model allowed me to be the center of attention for three hours without having to say a word. That was why I started modeling again when I went back to school. In fact, the day I registered for my first semester back was also the day that I walked into the art department office and filled out the application to be a model.
There is a difference between being looked at by a group of students who are diligently working on an artwork and being stared at by a fellow model on the stand with nothing but her own thoughts to occupy her time. I took a peek down at Lydia; her gaze was still fixed firmly on my groin area. When I’m in a pose, I think about all kinds of things, and when I run out of things, I count in my head to mark time. What was Lydia thinking about? I wondered. Was she assessing my genitalia? Or was she imagining what it might be like to touch them and feel them?
I felt flush, my breath starting to quicken, and I knew that I had to push all thoughts of Lydia away. In a normal situation, a man can hide his attraction to a woman, but there is no hiding anything on the model stand. I glanced down again, without moving my head position, and saw that Lydia’s eyes had grown a little wider, her mouth curled in a smirk. I looked back up at that far corner, trying to take slow, deep breaths, and thought about Game 6 of the 2011 World Series.
Growing up in North Texas had made me a fan of the Texas Rangers baseball club, and that game in St. Louis had been the most gut-wrenchingly awful experience Rangers fans had ever had to endure. I remembered the suspense, the anticipation of seeing the Rangers finally, after forty long years, winning their first World Series championship. They had been one strike away in the ninth inning, but David Freese had hit a long fly ball that Nelson Cruz just wasn’t able to catch to secure that ultimate win. Two runs scored, and the game was tied. The Rangers scored two runs in the top of the tenth, and we all breathed a sigh of relief. Maybe we would win this after all. But no. A Lance Birkman single in the bottom of the tenth tied the score again. David Freese struck again in the eleventh, homering and giving the game to the Cardinals. After the devastation of Game Six, a Cardinal win in the seventh game seemed like a forgone conclusion, and it was.
As much as I hated to think about something so frustrating, it worked in halting my physical crisis. I took a nice easy breath, but I didn’t dare glance down at Lydia. If she wanted a free study of the male anatomy, that was fine with me. But just that fleeting thought started me going again, and I again had to recall the Rangers blowing that World Series.
Audrey gave Lydia and me four breaks from the pose during the class, and one of those was the big fifteen-minute break for the students. Lydia donned her robe and disappeared while I was working the kinks out of my back. I assumed she went back to the changing room. Maybe she got dressed and ran down for a smoke break, although I didn’t even know if she was a smoker. I put my robe on and sat down in the teacher’s chair during the breaks. I wondered if Lydia was purposefully avoiding me, but when I thought longer about it, Lydia was in a seated pose and wanted to be up and around for her breaks while I was in a standing pose and wanted to sit and rest.
When the class ended, my left shoulder was throbbing. Why was it that standing poses were always harder on my shoulders than my legs? Audrey thanked us profusely for a wonderful pose, and the students even clapped in applause just a little bit. I noticed Lydia blushed as I took a playful bow. We put on our robes and walked together to the changing room.